by Jen Murphy, The Wall Street Journal
Skiing up a mountain might seem … counterintuitive. But people always on the lookout for a new fitness challenge may want to skip the ski lift and earn their downhill run by “skinning” uphill first.
Kaitlyn Archambault was introduced to ski mountaineering, also known as “skimo,” when she moved to Crested Butte, Colo., last year. It involves skiing both downhill and uphill. Skiers attach a pair of fabric strips called skins to the bottoms of their skis for traction on the trip up.
“People talked about going skinning like they were going to spin class,” says Ms. Archambault, a 32-year-old paralegal at Huckstep Law, LLC. “It’s a very foreign concept if you don’t live in a mountain town.”
Ms. Archambault is a longtime downhill skier, and after attending a ski-mountaineering camp, she decided to train for the Gore-Tex Grand Traverse. The ski-mountaineering race takes place March 25 and 26, starting at midnight in Crested Butte. The 40-mile traverse with 7,800 feet of vertical gain reaches its finish in Aspen. It requires at least 10 hours of uphill and downhill motion and is done in teams of two. “My boyfriend bravely signed on with me,” she says.
Ms. Archambault used to be a runner but suffered iliotibial (IT) band pain after she ran a marathon in 2011. “Ski mountaineering gives me the same cardio rush as running, but it’s lower impact,” she says. Being in the back country—on unpatrolled, ungroomed terrain—surrounded by nature, away from the crowds, is what appeals to her most.
“It’s very meditative to be outside in the fresh air taking in unbelievable views,” she says. Recently, she says, she and her boyfriend, Zach Guy, director of the Crested Butte Avalanche Center, were out for eight hours. “It’s the best thing in the world to be in the wilderness, powering yourself across the mountain.”
Ms. Archambault says major components of ski mountaineering are learning the basics of back country avalanche safety, as well as how to layer and fuel properly. The transition from uphill to downhill takes practice. “Some people can just kick a foot up, rip the skin off the bottom of their skis and then be zooming downhill,” she says. “When I need to put my skins on or off, I use it as a chance to catch my breath.”
Training has given her extra incentive to get in a workout during the winter months, Ms. Archambault says. “When you leave work at 5 and it’s dark out, all you want to do is go home. But once I get up on the mountain under the stars with my headlamp, I completely decompress. It’s a great way to end the day.”
Ms. Archambault skins two to three evenings during the week. After work, she usually heads to Crested Butte Mountain Resort and aims to go uphill for 45 to 60 minutes before skiing down. “The slopes are groomed and safe,” she says. “I go up with a headlamp. It’s cold, but once you get moving it’s invigorating.” On weekends she goes for longer back country tours, anywhere from four to eight hours, with Mr. Guy.
Ms. Archambault on the downhill portion of a workout. When she does training intervals on the uphill, she says, ‘it’s like hell for me, like an hour-long, redlining, anaerobic nightmare. But I go into a different mind-set and push myself harder.’ PHOTO: TRENT BONA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Some days she brings her dog and skins up a trail through the woods on Snodgrass Mountain. On many Tuesday nights, she meets a group of women who do an uphill interval workout on skis. “It’s like hell for me, like an hour-long, redlining, anaerobic nightmare,” Ms. Archambault says. “But I go into a different mind-set and push myself harder.”
Two mornings a week she rides 45 minutes on a bike trainer, and once a week she pops in a yoga DVD. “I’m not good at stretching, but my body feels the difference and thanks me when I do yoga,” she says.
Gear & Cost
Ms. Archambault says ski mountaineering isn’t a cheap sport to get into. Alpine touring skis can range from $600 to $1,300 and tech bindings cost between $300 and $800. She uses Lightweight La Sportiva RSR carbon skis with low-tech ATK Bindings. She looks for deals on a gear-swap Facebook page. Skins range from $100 to $250, and poles from $75 to $200. She says superlight race Alpine touring boots can cost up to $2,000, but you can find them on Craigslist for $400.
“If I was paying $200 a month for a gym membership, it would probably cost more in the long run,” she says. “This is, for the most part, a one-time investment on the main gear.”
She wears a Lululemon Swiftly Tech long-sleeve base layer, which retails for $68. “I generally pooh-pooh spending a lot of money on a shirt, but staying warm is worth the extra cost,” she says. On top of that she wears a Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody, which costs $149. Her Aether Apparel ski pants retail for $375, and her shell, $695. She usually wears two buffs, one around her neck and another as a headband/ear cover.
Ms. Archambault tries to make scrambled eggs for breakfast but often runs out the door with peanut butter on toast. She packs a salad topped with cottage cheese, apples, pears and feta or goat cheese for lunch, and keeps nuts at her desk for snacking. She always has piece of dark chocolate in the afternoon. Dinner is salmon with couscous and broccoli, or a curry over quinoa. Her boyfriend, races mountain bikes in the summer. “He has an incentive to eat well, and that rubs off on me,” she says. Her ski pack is full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Honey Stinger energy chews, trail mix with extra M&Ms, a thermos of tea and another with soup. “After a long day out on the mountain, all I crave is a good beer,” she says.
“When I skin at night, I love the silence and solitude,” she says. If she skins during the day, or rides the bike trainer, the songs that get her going include “Next Episode” by Dr. Dre, “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn and “Dangerous” by the Ying Yang Twins. “If one of those three songs comes on I get a second wind,” she says.
Write to Jen Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org